Even though our program is shared between the V&A and the Royal College of Art, those of us who don’t deal with contemporary design unfortunately end up spending less time at the College than we’d like, and so seeing the work of our classmates in practice over the past couple weeks at the RCA Graduate Show has been a revelation. I was having a wander through the Product Design space when I spotted two particular objects and fell immediately and viscerally in love. The first object, called CloudyChandelier, is an enormous mobile made up of hundreds of tiny circles of white paper glued together in several independently-moving strata. Light from a specially-crafted lamp dapples through the layers of overlapping circles, creating the effect of sun glowing through cumulus clouds. The second object, Parasite Hooks, displayed directly beneath the mobile, is a wooden wardrobe whose panels are covered with hundreds of sharp-looking, black bits of various sizes. My first impression was one of living growth, as if the wardrobe was actively sprouting feathers; like if one were to leave the wardrobe alone overnight, one would return in the morning to find an indignant crow in its place.
I was thrilled to find out that the same person had made both objects, though in hindsight not very surprised. Though they are seemingly quite different from each other, the mobile and the wardrobe do manage to convey a sense of coherence and shared feeling. I awkwardly managed to corner their maker, Product Design student Yerin Do, and she very kindly agreed to sit down with me to discuss her objects and her process. However, as soon as I walked away with a booklet of her photos and drawings and a promise to meet the next day, I began to worry about how to deal with this material and situation – a real, live maker and her brand new objects.
In the course of my own work I mostly analyse objects made hundreds of years ago, and I have no first-hand connection to the process of the maker. I research design processes and materiality, and explore the continuing response to objects once they are released upon the world – how designs and objects travel, and how they are (re)interpreted, adopted, adapted, or rejected across space and over time. As soon as I had seen Yerin’s objects I had automatically begun to analyse them and my own response to them – but surely the situation becomes completely different if the maker is sitting across the table from me, with the authority to tell me exactly what these objects are all about, doesn’t it? I immediately felt worried about overstepping, or inadvertently asking leading questions, or accidentally putting my interpretations in her mouth. As it turned out, I think our conversation ended up surprising us both.
Yerin Do is originally from South Korea, where she studied Industrial Design/Product Design and Furniture Design as an undergraduate. Her projects for the Graduate show are tied together by her wish to ‘bring a natural aesthetic indoors’, the foundation and reasoning of which we explored during our conversation. The following is a recounting of the first part of our conversation, in which we discussed her process for her first object, CloudyChandelier.
The mobile, which Yerincalls CloudyChandelier, is the result of a very long process of experiments in ideas, design configurations and materials as Yerin tenaciously clung to the concept of bringing a cloud indoors. She began with shades and screens featuring cloud-shaped skeins of silk, but she says that these objects felt quite rigid and two-dimensional. She felt like she was reiterating cloud shapes without actually touching the reality of clouds, and in hindsight she likens these flat depictions to childrens’ drawings of inert puffy clouds.
Another experiment of a ceiling lamp with silk skein ‘clouds’ wrapped around a metal cylinder seemed a move in the right direction – dispensing with the flat plane, setting the clouds overhead, and having them filter a light source – but the finished object left her feeling seriously disheartened for a few weeks, and she wondered whether she ought to give up on the project.
She felt as though she was seeing the structure of the cloud rather than the cloud itself, and this gave her the clue to turn toward thinking about cloud behavior. She spent hours walking in Hyde Park, bought a book on cloud watching, and took photographs of clouds. All of this ultimately caused her to realise that it was the movement of the clouds, and the way their constantly-moving diffusion of sunlight continually changes the outdoor environment, that had been missing; and it was in fact this sense of kinetic energy that she would most like to convey through her designed object.
I had asked if the transition from creating an object which allows a person to simply look at cloud-shaped things toward an object that fosters human recognition of and interaction with the behavior of clouds had been deliberate, but it seems that Yerin’s process in this regard was more intuitive that I had imagined, and also gets at the complicated foundation of her drive to ‘bring a natural aesthetic indoors’. She notes that for her, an essential difference between the indoor built environment and the outdoor environment is that the outside keeps changing and never stays still, whereas indoors the only changes are the ones humans make themselves. Therefore, the introduction of what is essentially an ever-changing human-built sky into an indoor environment is very significant to understanding Yerin’s emphasis on the importance of bringing the natural world indoors – and the sense of energy and movement is key.
My own response to her CloudyChandelier, for what it’s worth, certainly cemented my idea that the human response to the energy and independent movement of the object is central to its effectiveness.
As you surely have noticed, the breakthrough in Yerin’s process came hand-in-hand with a seemingly dramatic departure in materials and their usage. Where she had been utilizing large swathes of silk for form clouds, she instead began to work with hundreds of small paper circles.
I asked her about what, to me, appeared to be a very sudden and shocking change; but it turned out that it happened quite intuitively as Yerin began to think about clouds not as solid shapes, but instead as masses of tiny, constantly-moving droplets of water. She began to think about having little bits of something moving around, and considered using more fabric, plastic balls, or even magnets and metal pods – but she settled on a very stiff, brittle, translucent parchment-like paper. This was because of the particular way that the paper can overlap and allow light to shine through, allowing for the very particular dappling, diffusing effect Yerin has achieved with the CloudyChandelier. She began by tracing the circles with a compass and cutting them out by hand, but then she very fortuitously came upon circular hole-punchers of varying sizes. She and a few helpers glued all of the circles in overlapping arrangements; then the challenge was to hang these arrangements in independently-moving strata without each paper layer beginning to droop. Yerin began experimenting with piano wires, but they could be seen from below when the light shone through the paper.
She ended up using clear acrylic tubes as connectors, which can’t be seen from below. Yerin says she had really wanted to find a way for each layer, or even each droplet, to move freely, but hasn’t come up with a solution for that yet.
The process for making the CloudyChandelier is difficult to adapt for commercial reproduction without making significant changes to the finished object, such as just making each layer of the mobile one solid sheet of paper, so I found myself falling into the trap of romanticizing the hand-made aspects of the object. I know that the hand-made shouldn’t be fetishized just simply for being hand-made, but I told Yerin I do find something appealing in the idea that every droplet circle was deliberately placed to create the man-made cloudscape. She laughed, as she’d really like for the CloudyChandelier to be commercially produced someday (and is probably beyond sick of glueing paper circles together). She is in the process now of experimenting on how this might be done without losing what is fundamentally special about the object and the effect she has hoped to achieve with it. I plan to check in with her again soon to see how she is getting on.
Next time in Part 2: Feathers, parasites, and a continually evolving process.
Have you seen any objects that intrigued you lately? Perhaps you have encountered something that piqued your curiosity in a museum or gallery (or in a shop or in the street?), or as part of your art or design practice, as part of your research, or as part of your daily life. Please don’t be shy! We welcome submissions on objects of all sorts, between 500 and 1,500 words, and we do ask that you own the rights to your images or use those belonging to the V&A. If you aren’t sure if your idea is right for our column, it certainly never hurts to ask, so please get in touch with us: email@example.com
Emily Aleev-Snow –
Emily graduated from Bryn Mawr College in 2004 with a BA in East Asian Studies, with a particular focus on Edo Period Japan. After joining the Asian strand of the V&A/RCA History of Design MA, she has broadened the scope of her interests to a more global focus, asking questions about what objects can tell us about the sharing of knowledge across geographies. For her dissertation, Emily will be exploring the role of the practice of falconry as a medium of global exchange in the Early Modern period through its material culture.
© Emily Aleev-Snow 2014. All Rights Reserved